In honor of leaving my thirties behind this week, I indulged in some culinary delights (though I usually don’t need a justification). The full report is below.
The brioche donut at Satura Cakes, 200 Main Street, Los Altos
This French-style Japanese bakery is known for its beautiful and unusual cakes, and I do enjoy them. (I wish they’d bring back the Caramel Mocha Cake, but that’s another post altogether.) Most of the time, however, I make a beeline for the brioche donuts. These Muppaphone-shaped treats boast a wondrous lightness, even though they are fried in olive oil. (You can get them with a raspberry filling, but I am a purist.) Even though I can generally resist a donut, I find myself craving these anytime I’m on the Peninsula.
The citrus and avocado salad at La Posta, 538 Seabright Avenue, Santa Cruz
I love everything about La Posta, from its addictive house-baked walnut bread to the glorious gelati and sorbetti. Somehow, though, it’s the salads that always inspire me most: they’re so simple that I’m amazed that the flavor combinations don’t occur to me first, but always bewitching. This plate of perfect navel and blood orange slices and grapefruit segments featured a topping of gossamer-thin radish slices (the French breakfast variety, if I’m not mistaken) and pistachios. What made it were the slivers of preserved lime: they looked like strips of pith, but weren’t at all bitter. Their complex flavor tied everything together memorably.
The Ischler cookie from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Baking Bible
I always admire Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipes for their exactitude, flavor combinations, and beautiful results. So, I asked for The Baking Bible for my birthday (thanks, Mom). I love the melding of apricots and chocolate, so of course my head was turned by this sandwich cookie recipe in the book. The original calls for almonds (which I can take or leave), but I had a kitchen full of pistachios. I remembered Flo Braker’s pistachio/apricot/chocolate combinations in her Sweet Miniatures book, and so I soldiered on with the substitution. (The cookie batter was Kermit-hued, but it baked to a nicely golden tone.) The individual components were easy to make, but I can understand why some people find Beranbaum’s recipes daunting: I’ve never been great at rolling out dough, and so making and sandwiching the cookies took quite a while. I didn’t get quite the yield that was advertised, but the result garnered raves (even if the apricot seemed a little intense at first). As a bonus, I ended up with plenty of leftover apricot lekvar filling, most of which will go into another (much simpler) Beranbaum recipe eventually: the Cordon Rose apricot cheesecake from The Cake Bible.
The Japanese eggplant at Three Seasons Restaurant, 538 Bryant Street, Palo Alto
I hadn’t eaten here in a while, but fond memories (not to mention its ambiance) made it the chosen venue for my birthday lunch. I ordered the Japanese eggplant, and was thrilled to find it better than ever. (The restaurant omitted the bean curd strips it had used in the past…I love tofu, but in this dish it always seemed extraneous.) I could do shots of the silky, umami-rich coconut milk sauce.
The Tribute Cake from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet
Yes, I’m one of those control freaks who bakes her own birthday cake. How could I resist this classic from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet, my favorite cookbook? I hadn’t made it in a few years, and I was thoroughly smitten all over again. The cake component (another Flo Braker innovation) was more tender than usual. (I used natural cocoa powder instead of Dutch-process this time, and I think it made a difference in the texture.) I’d forgotten the majesty of Medrich’s Whipped Chocolate Ganache Filling between the three layers, and the intensity of the Sarah Bernhardt Chocolate Glaze on top. Even though my homemade chocolate fans still don’t quite look like fans after a few years of practice, they were the perfect decorative addition.